THE findings of the Chilcot Inquiry have not only provided a scathing critique of the whole chain of events and policies of Britain’s role in the Iraq war, but also revived the controversy of whether the invasion of Iraq should have taken place and how grave the consequences have been.
The inquiry chaired by Sir John Chilcot found that the supposed rationale for Britain co-leading the invasion was not backed up by facts.
There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The intelligence portraying the existence of such weapons was faulty, overhyped and presented by then Prime Minister Tony Blair “with unjustified certainty”.
There was no imminent threat posed by Saddam Hussein, concluded Chilcot, and peaceful means to resolve the conflict were not exhausted.
The Chilcot report gave a picture of a messianic Blair out on a mission to get rid of Saddam Hussein and vowing to partner the United States, even if there was no proper legal justification.
The words “I will be with you, whatever” that Blair wrote to United States President George W. Bush eight months before the 2003 invasion, will surely cast a long dark shadow over him, summarising his role as a faithful blind follower. Chilcot found that the US did not take Britain’s advice seriously.
“It is an account of an intervention which went badly wrong, with consequences to this day,” said Chilcot.
I watched Blair on TV giving a two-hour press conference to respond. He started very nervously, and saying: “I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you will ever know.”
But any expectation that Blair would apologise for leading Britain into war was dashed at question time. Even knowing what has since happened, he made clear he would still have invaded Iraq.
What then was he apologising for? The mistakes he admitted were confined to “the intelligence assessments turned out to be wrong, and the aftermath turned out to be more bloody than ever we imagined.”
Blair, who started his media performance looking nervous, ended it looking decidedly unrepentant for his main actions.
The Chilcot report did not dwell on whether the war was legal.
“We have, however, concluded that the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for military action were far from satisfactory,” said Chilcot.
Many relatives of British soldiers killed in Iraq condemned Blair’s role. Some called him a war criminal and said they were exploring their legal options to make him accountable.
Five years ago, there was already an initiative to make the war leaders accountable. In 2011 the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal had conducted proceedings on the roles of Bush and Blair in the Iraq war.
The five judges led by Datuk Abdul Kadir Sulaiman, a former judge in Malaysia’s Federal Court, concluded that they were both guilty of crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, and genocide as a result of their roles in the Iraq War.
The Chilcot report also found that those who executed the war were thoroughly unprepared for its aftermath. Blair’s government had been warned of the consequences of the war, the report found, so it cannot plead ignorance.
One criticism of the Chilcot report is that it did not dwell on the consequences of the war on the people of Iraq. It thus missed the opportunity to reveal the scale and nature of the horror.
Iraq Body Count, a group specialising in counting the casualties in Iraq, has criticised the report for omitting this issue.
“For the Iraqi bereaved, who might have hoped for an investigation that finally detailed the full extent of their suffering and consequent needs, the Inquiry is as disappointing as it ever was.”
The number of civilians who died as a result of the war and its aftermath is the subject of several studies, and the estimates range from a few hundred thousand to more than a million.
According to Iraq Body Count, more than 174,000 civilians have died as direct casualties from the start of the war in 2003 to around March 2016. If combatants are included, the total deaths climb to 242,000. If the injured are included, the figures increase further.
There are also deaths caused indirectly resulting from damage to infrastructure, health services, food and water supply and transport.
A team of American, Canadian and Iraqi researchers found that from 2003 to mid-2011, around half a million people died due to the war and the indirect effects.
They had carried out a survey of 2,000 households in 100 regions of Iraq and published the results in 2013 in the journal PLOS Medicine.
Regarding the above study, the writer William Furney remarked that if such monumental loss of life occurred at the hands of a government in Africa, the International Criminal Court would prosecute.
“The tragedy of many tragedies in this case is that Bush and Blair remain untouchable and unaccountable.”
Another study, by the Physicians for Social Responsibility in 2015 found that the death toll from 10 years of the “War on Terror” since the Sept 11 attacks was at least 1.3 million, and could be as high as two million, due to the US interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The war in Iraq has also had immeasurable psychological, ideological and political effects. The Iraq war may not have started the terrorist attacks attributed to militant Islamist groups, but it certainly accelerated and magnified the process.
By creating false premises for a war on Iraq, supposedly to end terror, Bush and Blair inadvertently let loose so many unanticipated events and forces that had precisely the opposite effect.
Will Blair and Bush be held to account? Probably not, for the powerful countries have ways and are in a position to shelter their leaders. But even if courts of law do not, history will judge them, and harshly, not only for what they did to Iraq and Iraqis, but how their actions changed the world so devastatingly.
Martin Khor (email@example.com) is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
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